Hunter's Moon (Chapter 6)
If I killed an innocent human being, that would make me no better than the animals I hunted. I hated them, but right now I hated myself.
"What's the matter?" Damien lowered his hand to my shoulder, gave it a reassuring squeeze. Why he was being so nice to me I had no idea. I certainly didn't deserve it – even without the gun in my pants.
"You went white. Are you sick?"
"No. The light's just too bright. Hurts my eyes."
"I'll change the bulb for you."
He released me and stepped back so I could enter the room.
"Not much to it." He swept out an arm. "Bed, television, bath through there."
I nodded, taking in the tiny sink, refrigerator, and coffeepot that made up the kitchen. Good thing I didn't cook.
"I'll just get that low-watt bulb." He moved toward the door. "It's downstairs."
"Thanks. Damien?" He paused in the doorway. "I appreciate your help."
He smiled, though the expression didn't reach his eyes. Now that I thought of it, his smile was rare and always a little bit sad – as if he had memories he couldn't quite shake. Like me.
"No problem. The new kids in town have to stick together."
I stiffened. "You're new?"
"Just moved in about three few weeks ago."
When the dead wolves had started to appear. Coincidence? My eyes fell to the ring on his right hand.
"I thought you owned this place."
"I only work here."
"Lives in Tucson."
He tilted his head and his hair swung free. My fingers itched to tuck it behind his ear. Why did I always have to tidy everything? The man, his hair, the world.
"You don't like Crow Valley?"
"I haven't been in town long enough to decide."
"It's not so bad. I've seen worse."
"You travel a lot?"
He shrugged. "Enough."
His eyes had gone dark and haunted again. I wanted to ask what enough was, but the way he held himself, as if he was waiting for a blow or warding off a memory, made me stop.
"I'll get that bulb," he said, and practically ran from the room.
I seemed to have that effect on men since I changed occupations. Once I'd been popular, pretty, the annoy-ingly pert cheerleader type. Hell, I'd been a cheerleader, in both high school and college. I'd dated the quarterback, planned on marrying him, too. Until he'd gotten his throat ripped out.
Then a whole lot of things had changed. I'd started killing for a living, and men avoided me like a lifetime commitment. Sometimes I wondered if what I did clung to me like a bad odor, or a permanent blot on my creamy white skin.
Mostly I didn't care. I didn't want sex any more than I wanted friendship. A relationship? Ha. I had better things to do.
So why was I thinking of how delectable Damien Fitzgerald had looked barefoot and bare chested beneath the silver light of the moon?
Because I'd lost what was left of my mind.
Maybe he wasn't a werewolf, but that didn't make him fair game. Any connection with me could get him killed – badly. It had happened before.
Despite his taut pecs and bulging biceps, he was out of his league in my world. He'd be meat to them, and I couldn't let that happen.
When I heard his steps on the stairs, I went out and took the bulb from his fingers. "Thanks. I'll take care of it."
The sharp dismissal in my voice caused a flicker of hurt to cross his face, before he squashed it and let the stoic mask drop. With a nod, he returned to the bar.
I had to force myself not to call him back, not to follow him and apologize. He'd been nothing but kind to me and I'd blown him off. Even though it was for his own good, I still felt like a shit.
I changed the bulb, for appearances' sake, then glanced at my watch. Midnight. The bar beneath my feet was starting to rock. No one would notice me slipping away. No one would care.
But after what had happened tonight, I was nervous. Had I lost my touch? My edge? Maybe I should take some time off, as Will had suggested.
Even so, I felt naked without all my guns, so I hurried to my car, retrieved every one that I had, as well as my travel bag, then hustled up to my apartment. As I reached the landing, the distant, eerie cry of a wolf split the night. I slammed the door and locked it behind me.
Was I locking them out or myself in? I wasn't sure, and that worried me. I'd spent a little time on the other side of sane, and I didn't want to return. I stowed my rifle, my bag, then sat down and had a good long talk with myself.
I had almost screwed up. It happened. However, if I got sidetracked, if I got spooked, they would win and a whole lot of innocent people would lose.
I'd take tonight off. Get some sleep. Go back to work tomorrow with a clear head and a clearer plan.
That decided, I checked the locks, the windows, my ammo. I should have checked my dreams – at the door.
I didn't mean to fall asleep before the sun came up. I planned to do some Internet research, make a few calls, catch up on my paperwork. But the traveling, the stress, the steady beat of the music from the bar downstairs must have combined to lull me from my intentions. Once asleep, I went where I hadn't been in quite a while.
Nightmares were nothing new to me. I lived with them even in the daytime. But I usually hunted the darkness away, slept in the light. I'd found that this kept the bloody trips down memory lane to a minimum.
In this dream, I was twenty-two again. Fresh out of school with a brand-new job teaching ABCs. I loved everything about kids – their innocence, their interest, their trusting cherubic faces. I loved them and I wanted some of my own.
Which was where Jimmy Renquist came in. We'd met as juniors at Northern Kansas University. I'd been leading the cheer "Go, fight, win. Yay," when Jimmy had been thrown out-of-bounds by a Neanderthal defensive lineman from Fresno. He'd landed on top of me.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he kept repeating as he helped me up and brushed me off. "Are you all right? I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"Renquist, get your ass back in the game!" the coach shouted.
He'd shrugged, winked, and smiled at me. I was lost from that moment on.
Jimmy was sweet, strong, smart. He loved kids, too. He planned to become a phys ed teacher. He would have if he hadn't fallen in love with me.
Even in the dream my mind shied at the memory of what I'd done to bring the horror down upon us. In the way of nightmares, the scene shifted to Sunday dinner at my parents' house. Telling them the wedding date, showing Mom the ring, having her weep with joy and hug me tight.
My last sight of Jimmy – whole – had been of him smiling that smile I loved as he shook hands with my dad.
My little sister – Mom and Dad's midlife oops – was five years old. My seventeen-year-old brother was home, too. Everyone was grinning when the first wolf crashed through the picture window.
Jimmy shoved my dad aside, threw himself in front of me. The wolf, a huge white male, hit him in the chest and tore out his throat in a single, practiced motion.
The rest of us might have been OK if we'd run immediately – blockaded a door, found a gun, maybe some silver bullets.
Who am I kidding? We were goners from the moment the window shattered, if not before.
But it's hard to move when something like that happens in your dining room. Normal people don't react well to sudden death, and we were so normal it was pitiful.
We stood there watching as the great white wolf ate Jimmy. We stood there in shock as the room filled with others. Later I understood that the pack had behaved with true pack mentality. Cull the herd, survival of the fittest, only the good die young. My sister went next.
The nightmare continued as I watched my family die one by one. I was too shocked to wonder why I was left for last. Too horrified and sick to notice that the wolves didn't look exactly like wolves.
Then the white wolf, fur pink with blood, turned to me. The others parted, let him come. I stared into his eyes, and I knew who he was.